For the past few days I have been thinking about why I walk and make art in response to it, the question came after reading a blog by MA student and walking artist, Trevor H Smith,
Smith walked the Pennine Way last year taking 17 days to cover the 268 miles with his friend, Derek, this year he intends to use walking via day hikes or over a few days to investigate “networking” with other artists. The project is called Walks with other Artists, the blog documents this process.
He is investigating the emotional content and connection that is fostered by walking with others, his premise being that his “and the life of the other artist is enriched by getting together and going for a walk.” I wanted to ask how he will measure enrichment and also have fears that it could be hijacked by some government department advocating walking as part of a men’s mental health strategy. What I do like is his collaboration with a wildlife photographer and his question, “What does an artist bring to a walk that a non-artist doesn’t?”
The other point that drew my attention is his desire to “generate work through his actions” rather than having ideas and finding ways to represent them. I am aware of process orientated work but it felt good to read this and to give myself permission to be reminded of it and not to put myself under pressure to “produce” a physical outcome.
Recently, my work has felt nebulous and disconnected as if I’m floating and the work is too, which is true as I’ve recently had a difficult couple of months being fragmented and dissociated. In short, I’m not clear about what I am trying to do or what I’m investigating, it’s mainly, “ What happens to me on a walk and how does that relate to my mental health”. This doesn’t feel enough (it may be, I have to reflect on this) and so having some time to review will hopefully be both useful on a practice and mental health level. It definitely feels like I have re-entered consensus reality. The idea of collaboration or walking with others and recording the experience is beginning to be significant again.
For the past few weeks, I have taken to leaving the house without a plan, I have stayed local as I cannot afford to go too far, I have not taken a map and instead have relied on my local knowledge. My aim has been to wander and make decisions regularly creating the route as I go than have a predestined path.
This morning I drove to the top of Cross Stone Road, parked at Lower Winsley Farm and walked towards Great Rock past a small disused quarry. At Great Rock, I walked towards the top of Jumble Hole, past the burnt out caravan, down through the clough towards Mulcture Hall and then back along the railway climbing upwards towards Upper Eastwood. Throughout the walk I was continually negotiating with myself as to how I would get back, playing with various ideas to walk all the way to Hebden Bridge, have a coffee, get the bus back and walk the arduous route up Cross Stone Road to the van. However, I decided against this and began to walk diagonally cross country. This process means I have to continually check in with my selves to see whether we (my different parts/alters) agreed as to direction, energy levels, and interest, I’m (we’re) working at inner democracy in order to foster calm and a higher level of integration.
On my way back to Great Rock I met Sam and Aiden from Barnsley who were staying in a shepherds hut in Oxenhope and looking for the Bridestones. We walked for 20 minutes talking about walking, running, cycling, Brexit and how big events in our physical and mental health had made each of us re-evaluate what was important.
Sam asked me what it was like to live in such a remote place, it made me reflect about the notion of comparison and what she felt was remote was normality to me, it’s not until others have different experiences that you begin to reflect on the parameters of your own constructed reality. Are any of us remote from each other now with the advent of the internet? The urban/rural divide is not as clear cut as it once was. My experience of living in a rural setting is that a lot of people will talk to you, basically because they want to know who you are and if you are safe.
I’ve been thinking about walking as an escape, the idea of which is nothing new and was prominent as industrialization took hold and writers and creatives escaped the city streets to the pastoral and wild places. As mentioned in the last blog post, walking as escape isn’t available to many as the social dynamics of class, gender, race, sexuality, disability do not drop away once you don your boots and get halfway up a hill. Walking feels like partial escape from the rapaciousness of neoliberalism, a bit like an intentional community, however, even though it is necessary for me to walk daily to get some sort of calm with my internal voices, I’m wondering if there are other things that will help in my anti-capitalist ethics and mental health. I recently read the article by Erik Orin Wright,
about the 4 different approaches to anti-capitalism: revolution, social democracy, escape and anarchism, the best approach being a mix of all four. Long distance walking was listed in the escape section and even though I struggle with social interaction and being inside over long periods I’m considering whether getting involved with a group would quell some of the effects of isolation, even though long periods spent in contemplation work for me. It is more about fostering a sense of agency over events than feeling passive in a world that is being destroyed by the powerful 1%. Getting together with others counteracts the myth of separation & sense of powerlessness.
What all this means for creativity is I’m putting things on hold and allowing my system to rest and not be put under pressure to produce, I intend to do some quiet reading, writing and musing and not act quickly, manic flight into health is never sustainable.